OPINION: Royal Norfolk Show must keep adapting to change

Mark Nicholas, managing director of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, which organises the Royal Norfolk Show

Mark Nicholas is the managing director of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, which organises the Royal Norfolk Show - Credit: Danielle Booden

After two costly Covid-19 cancellations, the team behind the Royal Norfolk Show must continue adapting to a changing world says Mark Nicholas, managing director of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA).

Innovating and changing is something that the RNAA has been doing since its foundation in 1847.

Through war, recession and plague the RNAA has provided a constant focal point for food, farming and the countryside within the county and across the UK. 

However, much like the sector it represents, the journey of the organisation has been subject to constant change.

Take the Royal Norfolk Show, for example. Arguably its humble origins can be traced back to the annual sheep shearing events held at Holkham by Coke of Norfolk in the early 1800s. 


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This then morphed into wider peripatetic agricultural shows as the advances into farming grew, with the last of these held at Keswick in 1953. Finally, the show as we know it now came to rest at the Norfolk Showground in Costessey and has been based there ever since. 

The show itself has evolved from simple knowledge exchange of agricultural matters to become Norfolk’s flagship event, by far the largest in the county and an annual fixture for people of all walks of life.

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Agriculture remains firmly at the heart of the show yet its continuing success comes from blending our rich heritage and traditions with a thoroughly modern proposition.

Whether you are a family, school child, trader, local or national business, scientist, researcher, innovator or an entertainer, the show offers something for everyone. This has always been achieved through evolution rather than revolution.  

Despite this success, attracting 80,000 people over two days, we constantly ask ourselves if the show is still relevant to 21st century Britain? 

The short answer is 'absolutely' – as a recent economic impact assessment conducted by UEA concluded that the Royal Norfolk Show is worth about £20m each year to the local economy. Our own market research tells us that visitors enjoy the mix of experiences we offer, both modern and traditional, with our livestock competitions still remaining one of the most visited  parts of the show. 

Royal Norfolk Show, 2018. Judging of the Heygates Team of 5 Competition

The 2020 and 2021 Royal Norfolk Shows were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic - Credit: Antony Kelly

The world’s tumults, including climate change, economic uncertainty and skills shortages, suggest that the role of the RNAA is just as important as it ever has been.

Norfolk is the engine room of agricultural production with over 500,000 hectares in production and many rural communities are integrated in the food chain – from farm to fork and everything in between. 

The RNAA remains the perfect organisation, ideally placed, to connect farmers to the scientists and the general public. With increasing interest in local food production and the countryside we’ve adjusted our proposition to reflect our countywide appeal and offer a year-round programme of events and activities that will inform, influence and inspire.

Increasing our membership diversity will be the positive product of change, with our Food and Farming Discovery Trust providing a thoroughly modern hub for Norfolk’s young to learn about food, farming and countryside.  

The RNAA is the glue that binds together so much in Norfolk. We will continue to champion issues facing the rural community, just as we have always done, by adapting as the world around us changes.

So as 2022 approaches, and we prepare to celebrate the RNAA’s 175th anniversary, we look forward to remaining an integral part of life in Norfolk for many years to come. 

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